Published on Huddle Today, Jun 24, 2016.
New Brunswick’s education system gets failing grades.
That’s not just an opinion; there are facts to back it up.
According to Statistics Canada, just over half of the province’s population is functionally illiterate. We’re also not that great at science, math and adult skills in numeracy, literacy and problem solving in “technology-rich environments” either.
This is unfortunate, since, you know, most of the jobs being created today are in the tech sector, and will be for the foreseeable future. Our biggest problem, however, is the fact that it’s impossible to sustain substantial economic growth when most of us can’t read properly.
This isn’t something that’s any one person’s fault. The current education system in New Brunswick (and across North America) was built as a one-size-fits all approach for the industrial revolution. A time when it was expected that most of the populace would work on a line in a factory like little robots.
Um, that’s over.
Now we’re building the robots.
With a current education system the way it is, New Brunswick isn’t going to make any substantial progress both economically or socially (though high-fives to those trying). This isn’t just for “tech” either, this goes for other subjects like the arts, as well.
Education advocate Geoffrey Canada hits the nail on the head in this Ted Talk. He says if you look at our education system like a business, it has the same business model for the past 50 years.
Would you let your business stagnate for 50 years? Of course not!
…See what we’re getting at?
Even this kid gets it.
With the influx of new science and data showing us how kids really learn, why are we not adapting the education system to reflect that? As Geoffrey Canada says, it usually comes down to resistance to innovation. People, especially older people, hate the idea of change. We hate to admit it, but New Brunswick fits those characteristics pretty well.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. In many other countries around the world, school systems are changing to reflect how the world now works and the science of how kids truly learn. Perhaps most importantly, they are changing so it will include everybody, not just the elite.
One of these countries in Finland.
The Globe and Mail published a piece back in April that describes what the country had done to overhaul its education system.
Writer Doug Saunders describes the scene inside a classroom at Meri-Rastila Primary School.
“The small, modern, glass-and-concrete building resembles many urban Canadian primary schools, but its classrooms are more intense, each with several teachers and assistants minding circles of kids of highly varied educational and linguistic abilities: There are virtually no special or remedial classes. A lot of non-academic activities fill the day, and the combination of the school’s collaborative structure and the teachers’ detailed devotion to keeping each child on track sometimes gives the place the urgent mood of a hospital emergency ward.”
We know, Right?
Finland has essentially reengineered its school system to put the students at the centre of everything. There’s no standardized testing or “special” classes based on children’s ability. Instead of spending an abundance of time on the traditional core subjects, the school system focuses on creating an environment tailored to how children learn.
“What seems unfamiliar to educators from other countries with high-achieving systems is the lack of emphasis on what most places would call “education.” School does not begin until age 7 (there are two years of preschool, but they don’t include reading, writing or arithmetic). Only a third of the school day is devoted to “core” subjects such as science, math and Finnish; another third is for music, art and gym; and the final third is for second languages (Swedish and English are compulsory). There is a lot of time for recreation and socializing. It’s not an intensive or competitive pedagogical experience.”
No doubt, it’s radically different from what we’ve been doing from the last 50 years, but as Saunders reports, it’s working really well.
If New Brunswick, or any other province, were to take on such a transformation, it would take incredible political and social cooperation. With the pettiness of politics and contempt for innovation so prominent in the discourse, such an undertaking would be one of the biggest challenges the province ever faced.
It could also be one its biggest victories.